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Funny Ha-Ha in a Half-Dozen Languages

AFS Essential Cinema: Making the World Laugh: Global Comedy

By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., May 30, 2008

<i>The Band's Visit</i>
The Band's Visit

Sometimes it's just too much to bear, isn't it? Contemplating an endless war against terror, an endless primary season followed by an endless general election, another endless Texas summer marked by boundless temperatures and limitless humidity. These are trying times, and we could all probably use a good laugh (or a potent tranquilizer) to get ourselves through.

Enter the Austin Film Society and its Essential Cinema series, which – after months of bringing audiences films from the more dour end of the cinematic spectrum – will be presenting Making the World Laugh: Global Comedy this month, featuring slightly more lighthearted fare from around the world –from the salt mines of Germany to the streets of Thailand, the highways of Buenos Aires to the back lots of old Hollywood.

The series opens this Tuesday with the beautiful 2006 French film Private Fears in Public Places (Coeurs). Set in present-day Paris, the movie – directed by New Wave icon Alain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad) – is a look inside the lives of six people drowning in loneliness. Which, I realize, may not sound particularly funny ... especially when set against the movie that follows it: Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow's surprise international sensation from 2004 about two young men who pretend to be the members of a feared street gang after learning kung fu from a manual. The film's impossibly acrobatic and wonderfully absurd fight scenes were one of the true revelations of the 2004 film year and helped to establish Chow (who also stars) as the rightful heir to the throne of Jackie Chan.

One film that will be of particular interest to local audiences is Schultze Gets the Blues, by Michael Schorr, which will screen on June 17. The movie follows a retired salt-mine worker from Germany to New Braunfels on his quest to discover the source of zydeco music, which, oddly enough, is the only thing that brings joy to his otherwise miserable life. Schultze will be followed by Argentine road movie Rolling Family (Familia Rodante) and a true oddity from Mexico, My Mexican Shivah (Morirse Está en Hebreo), which previously screened at this year's Cine las Americas festival. It's a family comedy about the difficulty of performing elaborate Jewish mourning rites after the unexpected death of a Mexican named Moishe whose heart gives out during a particularly robust mariachi dance.

The following week, the series goes back in time 60 years for Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux. Based on an idea by Orson Welles, the movie – about a man (played by Chaplin) who marries rich widows and then kills them for their money – was probably doomed to fail; after all, few Americans in 1947 had any desire to see their beloved sentimental tramp as a sinister agent. AFS has acquired a brand-new print of the film, which just might help respark interest in a forgotten masterpiece from a true Hollywood legend.

After Thai "feminist splatter comedy" 6ixtynin9 (Ruang Talok 69) and the Austin premiere of the French answer to Maxwell Smart and Inspector Clouseau, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (OSS 117: Le Caire Nid D'Espions) – in which comedian Jean Dujardin plays a bumbling secret agent – the program ends on July 29 with a screening of Israeli director Eran Kolirin's deadpan The Band's Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret). One of the best films so far this year, The Band's Visit – about an Egyptian police orchestra that gets stranded in a small, backwater Israeli village – manages to say more about the ridiculousness of inherited cultural antagonism and the equalizing power of human grief, disappointment, and joy than any more conspicuously political film could hope to – and with far fewer words.


Making the World Laugh: Global Comedy runs Tuesdays at 7pm at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Admission is free for AFS members and $4 for nonmembers. For more info, see www.austinfilm.org.


June 3: Private Fears in Public Places (Coeurs)

June 10: Kung Fu Hustle

June 17: Schultze Gets the Blues

June 24: Rolling Family (Familia Rodante)

July 1: My Mexican Shivah (Morirse Está en Hebreo)

July 8: Monsieur Verdoux

July 15: 6ixtynin9 (Ruang Talok 69)

July 22: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies(OSS 117: Le Caire Nid D'Espions)

July 29: The Band's Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret)

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